Hostname: page-component-59f8fd8595-gtxf7 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-21T15:47:51.359Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Group Minds and Explanatory Simplicity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 July 2015

Mark Sprevak*
University of Edinburgh
David Statham*
University of Edinburgh
Mark Sprevak (
David Statham (


This paper explores the claim that explanation of a group's behaviour in term of individual mental states is, in principle, superior to explanation of that behaviour in terms of group mental states. We focus on the supposition that individual-level explanation is superior because it is simpler than group-level explanation. In this paper, we consider three different simplicity metrics. We argue that on none of those metrics does individual-level explanation achieve greater simplicity than a group-level alternative. We conclude that an argument against group minds should not lay weight on concerns of explanatory simplicity.

Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2015 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Rupert, R. D., ‘Minding One's Cognitive Systems: When Does a Group of Minds Constitute a Single Cognitive Unit’, Episteme 1 (2005), 177–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Rupert, R. D., ‘Empirical Arguments for Group Minds: A Critical Appraisal’, Philosophy Compass 6 (2011): 630–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Rupert, R. D., ‘Against Group Cognitive States’ in From Individual to Collective Intentionality: New Essays, edited by Chant, S., Hindriks, F., and Preyer, G. (Oxford University Press, 2014)Google Scholar.

2 Rupert, ‘Empirical Arguments for Group Minds’, 635.

3 Lewis, D. K., Counterfactuals (Oxford: Blackwell, 1973)Google Scholar.

4 Appeal to quantitative parsimony is far from uncontroversial as a means of selecting between rival explanations. Lewis, Counterfactuals, says, ‘I subscribe to the general view that qualitative parsimony is good in a philosophical or empirical hypothesis; but I recognise no presumption whatever in favour of quantitative parsimony’ (87). Alex Oliver argues that, despite our undeniable bias towards explanations with quantitative parsimony, we should not trust this as a guide to the truth (The Metaphysics of Properties’, Mind 105 (1996), 180 CrossRefGoogle Scholar).

5 Nolan, D., ‘Quantitive Parsimony’, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 48 (1997), 329343 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Nolan, ‘Quantitative Parsimony’, 340.

7 Baker, A., ‘Simplicity’ in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Zalta, E. N., Fall 2013 Google Scholar,

8 Clark, A. and Chalmers, D. J., ‘The Extended Mind’, Analysis 58 (1998), 719 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

9 Clark and Chalmers, ‘The Extended Mind’, 13.

10 The authors are listed here in alphabetical order; both authors have contributed equally to this work. We would like to thank Anthony O'Hear for inviting us to present this paper at the Royal Institute of Philosophy, and the audience for their useful questions and suggestions. We would like to thank Robert Rupert for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.